This is the oldest cathedral in continental America, begun shortly after the Spanish established Mérida in 1542 and finished in 1598. In 300 B.C. the Mayans first established the area where Merida's Cathedral and Square now stand. When the Spanish arrived, they destroyed the Mayan buildings and used the stones to build the cathedral. Three arched doors lead to a soaring interior. When you click to enlarge this photo, you will see how tiny the people look compared to the size of this building.
Each time that we were downtown on the square, it was full of Mexican people and some were happy to talk to us and tell us about the importance of the buildings there.
The Canton Palace now houses the ANTHROPOLOGY & HISTORY MUSEUM in this completely refurbished mansion. There is an extensive exhibit of local Mayan history and anthropology as well as an excellent book and gift shop at the entrance.
My friend and I especially enjoyed the beauty of this magnificently restored building and its contents of Mayan treasures.
Open Tuesday through Saturday 9:00-8:00, Sunday 8:00-2:00. Admission $32.00 pesos
( that's about $2.90USD)
Every weekend the streets in downtown Merida are blocked off to cars so that bands can play in every block, restaurants set up tables & chairs in the streets in order to serve food and people listen to the music, chat, laugh and dance. Also, during the week there are free concerts in the various parks in the city with all types of music.
The singer at this bandstand had been singing Sinatra tunes as well as some Bobby Darren songs. He was very good.
There is such a wonderful sense of community that accompanies these outdoor gatherings of people eating, dancing and enjoying the night and the music. It was my favorite Merida experience.
Inside another building on the main square is the Governor's Palace which houses some amazing murals that depict the history of Mexico. They were painted in the 1970's by Fernando Castro Pacheco, a local artist, and they are stunning and, as with this one, very moving. This painting shows the Mayans being taken as slaves after they were conquered by the Spanish in the 1500's.
The murals are so large that I couldn't get the kind of detail that I wanted with my camera, so I'm using a postcard of the painting for this tip.
The Mercado which is several blocks south of the main square is really something to see. Besides the fruit, vegetables, handicrafts, jewelry, tortillas being turned out by a machine, there are also animals being sold live or butchered on the spot, dressed and hung on a rack on the counter for sale. This photo was taken from a distance but if you enlarge it, you will see the plucked chickens hanging on top of the counter. This was in the 97 degree F heat of the afternoon when we were there, so evidently we are overly concerned about refrigeration because doing without it doesn't seem to be a problem in many parts of the world.
El Castillo, the castle, is also referred to as the pyramid of Kukulkan, a god worshiped by the Maya after the Toltec people arrived to influence their thinking & future structures.
It was wonderful to be on these beautiful grounds when they were so quiet and free of crowds of people. It was good that we arrived the night before and were able to be in Chichen Itza soon after it opened.
MUSEO MACAY has permanent exhibitions of the work of Yucatecan artists, including additional paintings by Fernando Castro Pacheco, the painter of murals in the Governor's Palace. Museo MACAY also hosts visiting exhibits from other parts of Mexico. There is also usually a sculpture exhibit just outside the entrance in the walkway between the entrance and the cathedral. This is a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary art.
Several blocks north of the downtown square is the wide tree-lined avenue of Paseo de Montejo, named after the Spanish conquistador, Francisco de Montejo who founded the city in 1542. The avenue is lined with French style mansions, most now neglected, that were built by wealthy henequen or sisal plantation owners in the late 19th century. Sisal was used to make rope and hammocks before nylon was invented in the 20th century bringing much of the sisal industry to an end. The avenue also has several restaurants and banks on it today along with some interesting sculptures.
Most of the residential streets in the older part of the city, El Centro, are made up of one story buildings, narrow sidewalks, & no trees or grass. Many fronts of the homes and stores have not been painted.
The traffic is thick and fast along the narrow streets. That's why we took this photo late at night because traffic in the day is solid. Even in this shot a car was going by as you can see by the blurred lights. The population of Merida is about 800,000, so there are plenty of people out and about every day.
Merida is a center point from which one can travel to a great variety of fascinating places. One of the most important and most popular is the ruins of Chichen Itza, built by the Maya people probably between 450 and 600 A.D. The Mayas created centers in many places in the Yucatan, Belize & Guatamala. They were an advanced people who developed mathematics, astronomy and the calendar, hieroglyphic writing, architecture, art & culture while Europe was living in the dark ages.
Chichen Itza takes up about 4 square miles. The temples are laid out in such a fashion that they represent time - like an enormous calendar.
El Castillo, the castle, is a pyramid that is 24 meters high with 91 narrow steps up each of the four sides to the top where there is a temple. Visitors can make the climb if they wish. This photo was taken from the top looking toward the Temple of Warriors & the Thousand Columns.
We arrived at C.Itza about 9:00 a.m. well before the crowds from the tour buses arrived at 11:00 a.m. - so we almost had the place to ourselves for a while.
At the far north end of Paseo de Montejo is a section that was built in the last few years. The Gran Plaza is a two-story complex that looks like any typical mall in the US. It's major department store is Sanborn's which is quite lovely and had a beautiful long glass case of chocolates of all types just inside the doors we entered. They looked so good that we had to buy some. The chocolate was outstanding. We strolled around the mall for a while.
Also, in this area are the Mercedes dealership, Sam's discount store, Friday's & other chains. Walmart is also in Merida but a little farther south on Paseo. Evidently they were one of the
first to arrive.
This is a shot looking up the narrow steps of the pyramid, El Castillo. There are 91 steps to the top. People make the climb, then have trouble coming back down because the steps are so steep. Many scoot down sitting on one step at a time.
I had no desire to make this climb but my friend did and took the pictures from the top. I sat in the shade and had a pleasant conversation with an employee of the grounds who had grown up nearby and used to play among these ruins with his friends when he was a child.
Starting on Saturday evenings and until Sunday late night, the streets in downtown Mérida are blocked off to cars. It seems that all Meridanos come downtown and party. Bands play in every block, restaurants move their tables & chairs into the streets, vendors set up in the streets, roaming street performers perform -- basically it is PARTY time.
We went to a VT meeting on Saturday evening, and then wandered the streets, listening to the music and people watching. There are all types of music -- we heard tangos, old-style 50's music, even one band who played music I associate with Mexico - like they play on Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns.
We really enjoyed the community atmosphere, and recommend that you try to visit Mérida on a Saturday or Sunday evening.
On each side of the northern staircase of The Castle or Pyramid of Kukulkan are huge impressive carved stone heads of feathered serpents with jaws open showing their fangs.
The worship of poisonous snakes and their use as symbols was common among ancient civilizations. This was a Toltec influence.
The Yucatan peninsula is home to many ancient Mayan ruins or achaeological sites. (My Spanish teacher told me they are "archaeological sites" not "ruins", but the word "ruins" is so much easier to type, so "ruins" they'll be from here on.)
We planned to visit the ruins of both Uxmal and Chichen Itza with our teenagers. But before we did, we spent an afternoon at the Regional Anthropology and History Museum in Merida to get an introduction to and overview of the Mayan culture. I highly recommend this if you plan to spend any time at the ruins. The Museum is definitely worth a visit.
As soon as we got there, a guide named Antonio offered his services. We took him up on it - the cost was $150 pesos for the family. It was so worth it. Antonio is extremely knowledgable about the Mayan people and has been acting as a guide for 30 years. There is no way we could have gained the knowledge we did on our own, or by reading a guidebook. Our tour through the museum made us appreciate what we saw later at Uxmal and Chichen Itza so much more.